“Church is having a party. For the volunteers.”, they said.
“It’ll be fun!”, they said.
I got a cow mask.
And so started a fairly banal Facebook post. The party had been quite ok to that point. Food was good and company was good. Then the fun and games started. I managed to avoid most of the “Penguin march” (a Finnish daycare version of “The Birdy Song”) which was followed by … “The Birdy Song”. Mother Duck had been trying her hardest to get me to dance like a penguin and then like a chicken .. and I was dying a thousand deaths inside.
When we were “warmed up”, slips of paper with animal names on were handed around. The idea being to join up with other folks by making the sound of the animal written on the paper slip. As everyone else was making “amoo”, “rrrut” and “pock pock” sounds, it was fairly easy just to go with the flow. Once the cows, the pigs and chickens had found each other, a team leader needed to be nominated. Since I was wayyyy too slow nominating someone else .. I got nailed. Each team leader was given a novelty carneval mask to wear. Ironic? You have no idea. If only the floor could have opened up and swallowed me whole.
And here is the crazy thing. Once I had the stuffed mask on, it somehow enabled me to distance myself from the social environment which was trying so hard to lock me up. The thickness of mask’s stuffing actually served to somehow leave me feeling insulated from the outside world. People could still see me, duh .. I wasn’t invisible. Far from it, but somehow I felt that their gaze stopped at the cow mask and didn’t reach me any more. I wouldn’t say I was comfortable, but .. I was coping a little better.
We rarely reveal our true selves in public. We show only a side of us which seems to fit the situation, or people who we with. We mask the qualities which we think don’t fit. To some degree we all wear psychological masks.
Of course, wearing a stuffed cow carnival mask in public to feel safe is not the best idea. I can imagine it eventually attacting the attention and concern of some .. ‘professional’ people .. , but the experience started me thinking about how I process situations, social or otherwise, which I feel completely unable to handle. This could be an intense noisy situation when I am run down, or even moments at work when I would love to share something of my faith but feel unable to.
In general terms people are encouraged to “be themselves” and to “take off their masks”. But what if the person using the mask actually just wants to stay hidden? What if the mask is the one thing which allows them out of their private spaces and into public spaces? What if the mask is actually something which enables them, and not something which disables them?
I think there is something here about allowing people to ‘wear their masks’ and choose how much of themselves they reveal. Even if we suspect, or know, we are being shown a mask, we should still be providing an environement which feels safe. This is as true for old friends as it is for new friends. Trying to pull off a mask which is still tightly fastened is not going to fun for anyone. Be the friend they need and maybe over time the mask will become less needed and may even fall away by itself.
In another unrelated post, I briefly explorered the concpet of being accepted for who we are whilst who we are might not actually be who we were created to be. Ultimately we, I, need to be able to present the full un-masked person we are to those around us. To get to that point might take time and patience from those around us and courage from ourselves.
We might even find we didn’t need to hide oursevles after all.